The Importance of an Outward Focus in Taking Control of My Stutter

“The biggest communication problem is that we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” ~Anonymous

I love this quote because I think it is so relevant for our world today. I feel as if we, including myself, have forgotten what it really means to listen to others. Between politics and social issues, people are screaming their own opinions left and right, often with little intention to consider someone else’s point of view. Sadly, just a few minutes on social media reveals how unkind people can become in their efforts to be heard. People often resort to any means necessary, whether by interrupting, criticizing, or putting someone else’s opinion down, to promote their own opinions. Even in everyday conversation, we can become so worried about responding that we fail at the most crucial part of conversation-listening.

Why am I writing about this today? Every single day, I have to make a choice. Will I let my stutter dominate every conversation, or will I take my eyes off my own situation and choose to see others? Without even realizing it, I can become so inwardly focused in the moment of stuttering. My mind rolls through several rounds of mental gymnastics, frantically searching through my reserve of synonyms, imagining worst possible scenarios, silently practicing what I plan to say, and trying to subdue the normal anxiety that always accompanies stuttering.

Think about it for a second. . .If my mind is clouded with all of these extra things, will I have anything left to give to the person standing in front of me?  Will I ever truly see others if all I’m thinking about is my stutter? In other words, will I ever see others if I am only thinking about myself? The answer to each of these questions is NO.  

At any moment during a conversation, my mind could be in complete chaos, yet the other person never even knows it. But I know it, and I deeply desire to calm that storm in my mind so I can concentrate on what’s most important~others. This is why I am on a determined mission to conquer the fear of stuttering and to find speaking techniques that will least distract my attention away from the conversation.

Stuttering completely captivates me when it happens, but I must make the choice to break free. I can’t ignore it. I can’t hide from it. I can’t do anything to make it go away. However, I can take control of it with God’s strength so that I can truly open my heart to others, give them my full attention, and shift my focus where it is supposed to be…OUTWARD.  

I firmly believe that choosing to see others is a key to overcoming the anxieties that surround stuttering. Really, choosing to see others is the key to overcoming so many of our insecurities in life. If we’re focusing on others, listening intently to every word they say, hearing about their hopes and dreams, hearing about their interests, hearing about what drives them and makes their hearts sing. . .what time will we have left to think about ourselves?

Will you take the challenge with me? This coming weekend, determine to listen with the full intention to understand, not just hear.

I don’t know about you, but I think it would radically change our world.

Much love, Kenzie

Five Things I Want All of the Sweet People in My Life to Know

As someone who stutters, sometimes I start to worry.  Do people understand? Do I come across as highly introverted and even uninterested because I’m so reserved most of the time? Do people know that I really do care, that I love them, that I love talking to them?  All of these thoughts flood my mind whenever I’m in any kind of social situation, whether it’s with close friends and family or with less familiar acquaintances. On the toughest days, when my stutter is a relentless opponent in this battle to speak and I start retreating into silence, there are a few things that I just long to tell that person standing in front of me.

To all of the sweet people in my life…

(1) If we’re having a conversation one day and I let you do most of the talking, please know that it’s never because I’m uninterestedI LOVE talking to you. In fact, I could talk with you all day.  However, the truth is that stuttering can be downright exhausting sometimes. I might just be having a really rough day with my speech; and on those especially tiring days, I would rather listen to what you have to say. But I will always try my absolute best to add something in whenever I can.

(2) If you ask me a direct question, and it seems like I’m avoiding it by giving a vague answer, please know that I’m not trying to ignore what you said. Now, this one is extremely specific, but I felt that I needed to include it because it’s a constant struggle for me. Can I be totally honest with you? This is very hard for me to share, but it’s important. Sometimes, the stutter has been so powerful and so overwhelming that I have resorted to desperate measures to just somehow answer the question, whether it makes sense or not. This might look like pretending to forget the name of the drink I ordered when a friend asks me or even “forgetting” the name of my online schooling program because the words were just too difficult to say. This might look like beating around the bush until the tension subsides enough for me to answer you. That is the honest truth. When you ask me something, it might take awhile before you get the answer to your question, but I promise I will always try.

(3) If I ever seem distant or removed from a social situation, please know that it never has anything to do with you. Even if I seem really quiet, odds are, I’m as happy as can be on the inside because I’m with you! It’s normally never because I’m sad, or anything else. It might just be that my stutter is giving me enough trouble that day that I just prefer to sit back and quietly take the world in. I have many days like that, and those days teach me so much.

(4) If I do a terrible job at initiating conversations with you, please know that I’m trying to do better. It’s never because I don’t want to talk to you…because I really do! I have always struggled with initiating conversation. For some odd reason, it’s much harder for me than just jumping into a conversation that’s already started. Asking questions is especially difficult. Through the years, I have made slow progress in this area, but I have a long way to go. I know I’ll get there someday with God’s help.

(5) Most of all, please know that I care. One of my deepest concerns is that people won’t know how much they really mean to me and how much I love them. After all, communication is the most basic aspect of human interaction. It’s how we share our hearts and lives with others. It’s how we connect as fellow human beings traveling through this same life together. Life revolves around communication. Please know that I’m thankful to have you in my life. I have been so abundantly blessed with family and friends. Sometimes, I can’t express my heart the way I want to with my words, but I can still express it with actions…And I hope and pray that I have.

As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read this and for supporting me in this journey.

Much love, Makenzie

Defeating Defeat

What’s one thing that challenges you every day? Now think about that one thing for a moment. Are you letting it defeat you, or are you giving it to the Lord and letting Him use it in ways you never imagined possible?

For me, I can sincerely say from my heart that the one thing that challenges me every day is speaking. Something so simple, but so difficult sometimes. Over the past few days, I’ve had conference calls with the online schooling program that I use. And do you know what I have to tell them every morning? That’s right…MY NAME. The two words that seem to freeze on my lips every single time…the two words that make my heart pound when I just think about having to say them.

The past two mornings, I have hit that “call” button with shaky hands, praying and hoping with my whole heart that I will be able to tell them my name smoothly. But both times, I have gotten pretty stuck. For several seconds, the line went totally silent, as I tried and tried and tried, until my name finally tumbled out.

The first time it happened, I expected the usual flood of emotions to take over me; but something unexpected happened. God just filled my heart with peace, that kind of peace that can’t ever be explained by words. Sure, I felt really nervous and pretty exhausted; but at the same time, I felt completely surrounded by God’s peace.
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Every morning, my stutter is waiting for me. Every morning, whatever challenge you have is waiting for you. Determine that with God’s strength, you will not be defeated. Challenges will always come, but defeat is always a choice.
Let yourself be challenged, but never-ever-defeated.
Much love, Makenzie

To the Teacher Who Gave Me Confidence to Stutter

For my sophomore year of high school, I started attending a private Christian school after using a distance learning program from home for about seven years. Although I decided to finish my last two years using this distance learning program, my short time at the school impacted my life tremendously. Not only did I make great friends, but I was also blessed with a wonderful teacher. This particular teacher’s kindness, gentle pushes to challenge myself, and constant encouragement gave me confidence to speak without fear.

After being out of traditional school for so long, I was extremely nervous about going back. How will people react to my stutter? How will I possibly make it through mandatory oral presentations? Will my teacher understand? The first day of school was an emotional rollercoaster. My heart was bursting with excitement, yet racing with anxiety. As I walked up to the entrance, a few tears trickled down my cheek, but I quickly pulled myself together. I determined that that day would be a beautiful start to a new journey, no matter how scared I felt.

A few hours in, I could finally breathe again. I realized that I didn’t have anything to worry about, because everyone was so nice. I know that my classmates had to have immediately noticed that I spoke differently, but nobody treated me differently or made me feel distant because of it. However, what put my heart at the most peace was my teacher’s response. My parents had let him know ahead of time about my stutter, but I still didn’t know how he would respond when I was actually standing there in front of him, fighting with all my heart to answer his simple question.

Time and time again throughout that school year, my teacher handled my stutter with so much grace, patience, and kindness. When I spoke to him, he never—ever—averted his eyes or even looked away for a second. He would always just smile and nod in a way that made me feel like there wasn’t even anything different about the way I spoke. He made me feel at ease with myself. He never pitied my stutter, but rather, gently pushed me to challenge myself in new ways. He always listened with so much intent, patience, and genuine concern, no matter how long it took me to ask for what I needed. Most of all, he didn’t exempt me from doing the things that I feared most; rather, he gave me the confidence to do the things I feared most.

I still had to give all of the oral presentations and all of the speeches, and I am so thankful for that. Without being made to do those things, I know that I never would have. I never would have learned and grown as much as I did from pushing myself so far out of my comfort zone. Before my speeches, he would always encourage me to take my time and to be confident in what I had to say.  And as I stood up there in front of the class, I could always count on the fact that he would be standing in the back of the room with a smile on his face.

To my sophomore year teacher, if you ever read this, thank you. Thank you for being so kind, and most of all, thank you for giving me the confidence to stutter.

Seeing Our Differences Differently

“We need to look past the outward and into the inward to see the person-the living human soul-standing in front of us.”~Mom

When we see someone who is different from us, what is our first thought? 

When we see someone in the grocery store with messy hair and ratty clothes, do we immediately think that they are lazy? Or do we think about someone who may have had a really tough morning, someone whose family member could have just died, someone who is so stressed out that getting dressed at all was the most they could do that day. . .

When we see someone who is overweight, do we silently judge them in our hearts as someone who does not have any self-control, someone who eats all day, someone who doesn’t care about their appearance at all? Could it be that they have a medical disorder that causes weight gain?  Could it be that they have no control over it?

When we hear someone with a speech impediment, do we stereotype them as slow, unintelligent, or so socially awkward that they can not even communicate? Or do we see someone who might have a neurological disorder like stuttering, someone who has suffered severe brain trauma? Do we listen to what they are saying, instead of analyzing how they are saying it?

When we meet someone suffering from a mental disability, are we embarrassed and afraid to talk to them? Or do we see past the outward into the heart, realizing that they are still people with emotions, with dreams, with feelings. 

When we see someone who just looks different than we do, acts differently than we do, walks differently than we do, or anything else you can possibly think of. . . do our hearts respond with compassion and acceptance, or do they respond with misguided perceptions about that person? Do we stare, or do we smile and let them know that they are beautiful and loved just the way they are?

Writing those words convicts my heart so deeply, because I find myself making faulty judgments about others all the time. I am talking to myself as I write this post. Sadly, everything in our world centers around outward appearance, but it doesn’t have to be that way, friends. I have heard that, on average, most people form an opinion of someone within the first minute of talking to them. But what is often our criteria for this? Outward, outward, outward. Isn’t this sad? We judge on how they present themselves, how they speak, how they walk, and how they look.

But who we are is never completely manifested on the outside. Inside is what truly matters.

My mom reminded me of something profound this afternoon. We do not set the standard for what is “normal” and what is different. God has lovingly fashioned every human being in His own image. There is no set standard for what people should be. People only need to be themselves, and that should always, always, always be enough.

On a personal note, I have been shocked by the kind words of others who have told me that they think my stutter is beautiful and endearing. People have told me that they feel comfortable around me because they feel like they can just be their imperfect selves. I did not mention that to exalt myself in any way, because honestly, I never imagined that someone could possibly see my stutter as endearing. I mentioned this because those words have radically changed my own view of being different. To the people who have told me these things, thank you. Thank you for showing me how to see differences differently. Thank you for setting the example for how I need to view the differences of others…as beautiful, precious parts of who they are.

Think about a box of crayons. Every crayon has its own signature color that makes it stand out in the box. It’s unmistakable from the others. Imagine receiving a box of crayons as a little kid, only to find that every crayon was the same color? What was it about a brand new box of crayons that excited you? It was probably that you could create absolutely anything you wanted with all of those different colors, right? You could let your imagination run wild. But even though every crayon was different, we still liked them all equally, right? That’s exactly how life is. We all have “a signature color.” Everyone is different, and because of those differences, we put our unique stamp on the world. We could not possibly be confused with someone else, because our differences make us unforgettable. . .in a wonderful way.
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What if we started celebrating differences as what makes everyone beautifully unique? What if we started celebrating our diversity and treasuring every human being for who they are, not for what we expect them to be? 

Will you join me in seeing differences differently than we ever have before?

Much love, Makenzie

Why I Write about My Stutter

Last year, when I finally found the courage to start talking about my stutter openly, I really worried that people would think I was seeking attention, asking for pity, or even somehow using my stutter as a source of pride. I know that might sound weird, but I tend to overthink everything. That is probably one of my greatest weaknesses. Sometimes, I become so paranoid about what others may think that I miss important opportunities that the Lord tries to give me. To this day, conflict clouds my heart every time I sit down to write a new blog post, because I do not want this to be about me. I want this to be about my amazing God and what He has done in my life!  God is the One Who gave me this passion for writing, and I desire to use it for Him. However, I also want to be relatable to my readers by writing about personal experiences. There is such a fine balance to maintain.

So…why?  Why did I spend several days building a blog? Why do I sometimes spend hours at a computer writing a new article or a new blog post? Why do I talk about my stutter so much? For years, I kept my voice under lock and key. Speaking out about my stutter just wasn’t an option. Nobody-absolutely nobody-could know that I was different, except for my closest family members. Instead of letting other people help me, I carried the weight on my own. Until one day, I realized that God doesn’t want us to go through this life alone. Consumed by my own insecurity, I was neglecting others. I was missing opportunities. I wasn’t being all that God made me to be.

I couldn’t see around the impenetrable walls I had built around my heart.

I write, and I write, and I write because it takes away all of the fear and anxiety that results from keeping everything locked up in my heart. It brings peace and acceptance. If I’m afraid of my stutter, other people will be afraid of it too and won’t know how to react. In addition, writing about my stutter has made me realize how I can use this struggle to help other people. I write because I want to encourage others to embrace who God has made them to be. I write because I don’t want people to be afraid of being different, because different is so special. Most of all, I write because I want the world to know that God is good and that He can help us overcome anything in this life.

Talking openly about my stutter has torn down the walls.  When the walls finally came down, I could start seeing the world again. I could start seeing others. A new light came pouring into my heart, showing me what a gift my stutter could be if I would just let it. Writing about my stutter has truly changed my life.

Is there an insecurity in your life that you are afraid to talk about? Start tearing down those walls with God’s strength, and let the light in.

Much love, Makenzie

 

When I Heard Someone Imitating Stuttering for the First Time

I debated about whether to write about this experience, because I DO NOT  want it to sound as if I am criticizing this person in any way. My only desire is for this post to raise greater stuttering awareness. Due to the circumstances, I know in my heart that this person did not understand what stuttering really is. He did not understand that stuttering is a real medical condition that thousands of people face each day. One of the greatest things that stuttering has taught me is to see the best in everyone…to always give them the benefit of the doubt. Perceptions can be so dangerous, if we don’t ever search further into what somebody really meant.

So, here’s what happened. . .

Quite a few months ago, when I was still attending a Christian school, I was sitting in speech class (a class taken by video) waiting for the next performance. If I remember correctly, this particular assignment had been to pick out a monologue and perform it in front of the class. Even though we followed a certain story line, we had free reign to create our own characters. As the next student walked to the front of the class and began speaking, something immediately caught my attention. There was something very different-and way too familiar-about the way his character spoke. Then, it hit me. . .really hard. He was pretending to stutter.

Unfortunately, this character wasn’t just someone who stuttered. He was also portrayed as very awkward and unintelligent. Sadly, many people seem to associate stuttering with these things. As I listened to his broken speech, I felt like sinking down into my chair and disappearing. The whole class on the video was laughing. I tried to smile and ignore the way this made me feel, but I just couldn’t. I tried to just focus on the performance, but the stuttering was all that I could hear at that moment. It’s not that I was bothered by the stuttering itself. I wasn’t angry at all. I was just sad that stuttering was being used as a joke.

I could sense the people next to me, who knew that I stutter, glancing nervously at me.  I tried to mask the shock and sadness on my face, but I don’t think I did a very good job. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the performance ended. The teacher on the video walked to the front of the class and congratulated him on his excellent performance. What’s so difficult about this situation is that it really WAS a great performance over all. He did an amazing job staying in character and making the character believable. But then, the teacher’s last couple of comments stung deeply. “Great job on making your character stutter! I think that added a great aspect of humor to the performance.”  My heart sank.

At that moment, I realized that I had to do something.  I told myself over and over, “You can’t be upset at them. You just can’t. But you know what you can do? Raise awareness.” I think we’ve all probably seen the media portray stuttering in a humorous way. Especially for me as a stutterer, it is so difficult to not be deeply hurt by every stigma I hear about stuttering. But I have had to realize that most people do not have a full understanding of stuttering. It’s okay that they don’t understand. I can’t expect them to understand something that they have never experienced or never heard about. However, I can do my very best to keep raising awareness so that they do understand. That has become one of my life goals!

Will you join me in raising awareness for stuttering? Whenever we hear something negative about stuttering, we can take that opportunity to kindly and lovingly tell others more about stuttering so that they understand. Small things like that can make such a huge difference towards raising awareness.

Thank you so much for taking this amazing journey with me.

Much love, Makenzie